Zeroing In On a Guaranteed Minimum Annual Income

MLK has been dead a half-century now but, like Shakespeare, his writings never lose their power or truth.

My writing is mostly prompted by news stories of one kind or another. The news in these shaky times is dominated by layoffs, 8,000 here and 10,000 there as business after business is decimated or falls into receivership. Huge retail chains, airlines, hotel brands, all the way down to mom-and-pop enterprises—you name it, it’s in trouble.

I’ve written on this recently, but the true numbers on unemployment in America are shocking. Twenty-five percent is very close to the truth and pockets of joblessness are considerably beyond that.

There’s always a recovery down the road, except when there isn’t

Black Monday is the name commonly attached to the global, sudden, severe, and largely unexpected stock market crash on October 19, 1987. A lot of investors shaken, but a relatively quick two-year recovery. Then there was the Savings and Loan disaster that caused the failure of a third of America’s Saving and Loan Associations. Took ten years to recover from that debacle and a few major players actually went to jail. But we recovered. Even after 1929, we recovered. The dot-com bubble of the 90s and subprime mortgage fraud of 2008 are further examples  of recoveries, some more difficult and extended than others.

This is different. Too many diverse negatives are in play this time around. If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know that in my darker moments I tend to feel we are nothing more than another failed species.

We will survive this, but we won’t recover

Jobs are simply not coming back in such industries as airlines, manufacturing, retail, hospitality and huge areas of technology. Where do 100,000 flight attendants go for a job? Ten million manufacturing jobs are at risk. Sixteen million in retail are worried.

Neiman Marcus, Lord and Taylor and Brooks Brothers are not coming back. Of the world’s 5,000 airlines, a hundred may survive, maybe two hundred if you include freight. Anyway, you get the picture. From robots to technologies you and I have never heard of, jobs are going away.

Which begs the question of whether a guaranteed annual income is a good idea

I’m not really sure there’s a choice, other than massive starvation and chaos. Chaos isn’t good for anyone, so my guess is that we will fiddle around with guaranteed income, probably far too slowly. Governments are not very skilled at things like this in the best of times and we happen to be hip-deep in the worst of times.

Here’s my entirely untested theory

It’s based on the ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ notion. Suppose we establish a somewhat better than sustainable national family income at—pick a figure–$36,000. That was the national median income in 2019. There are glitches, thirty six grand is far more grand in Mississippi than New York, but we’ll figure that out. We also have to pretty much re-define what a family is. People live in groups.

But granted those difficulties, what is the overall effect on financial America? The knee-jerk reaction is runaway inflation and an unsustainable society.

But is it? Money is more a concept than an item of value. We negotiate its worth in a hundred subtle ways. That money is not going to remain under the bed. It’s going to buy groceries, pay for gasoline and minor repairs on the car, replace that tired old sofa, pay down the credit cards and keep the kids in school. Some may blow it on drugs and booze. In any event, it gets recycled. Furniture stores sell the sofas that manufacturers make. An economy is sustained.

I need Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz to get into the conversation

Paul and Joe, what happens if we do that? I don’t mean as a short-term way to slide by a financial crisis, but a permanent way to sustain an economy that does not now and never will have jobs enough for its citizens.

America, and certainly a large part of the world is headed in that direction. It can either be too little for too many or a rather pleasant place to live.

What’s your reaction?

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